Even on an off week, there's work to do.
As his team stands at 5-0 this week — with an open date on the Athens Hornets' schedule — head coach Paul Essary and his staff has players working to iron out the wrinkles. That's not merely a healthy sign from a good team, but a necessity. The Hornets will begin District 15-3A play on the road at Canton next week.
At that point, Essary said everybody in the district will be 0-0.
“I'm real pleased with where we're at, but there's still a lot we need to improve on,” said Essary, who is off to his best start in five seasons in Athens. “I've been pleased the most with how our kids have given tremendous effort and they've been a physical football team. That'll win you a lot of games.”
The Hornets are coming off a 35-28 win over the Palestine Wildcats last Friday. Unlike the previous three games, when Athens outscored its opponents, 132-7, Palestine cut the lead to one touchdown twice over the final 13:28 — including a kickoff return for a touchdown with a little less than nine minutes to play.
Essary said he was pleased with his team's confidence during the stretch when the game was on the line.
“Don't get me wrong — I don't like any test that we don't end up winning, but we needed a good test like that before we go into district,” Essary said. “I saw some kids grow up and respond and not panic.”
Essary said he isn't moved by the fact his team is the only one that will enter 15-3A undefeated.
Mineola is 3-2, Brownsboro is 2-3, Mabank and Canton have just one win and Van is winless. He recalled how the Hornets entered district play at 1-4 last season but rallied to win their final three games to qualify for the playoffs.
“We were down and everybody was saying the same things about us,” Essary said. “You cannot take anybody for granted. We should know that better than anybody.”
The Hornets enter district play next week with a very distinct team identity — they run the football often, and very well, and they play pretty tough defense. Through five games, the Hornets have accumulated 2,044 total offensive yards. Of those, 1,769 have come on the ground, with the likes of Devin Hall, Logan Fuller and quarterback Anthony Sanders leading the charge.
Fuller, a sophomore, leads the team in rushing yards (655) and touchdowns (nine). Hall isn't far behind, as the junior has compiled 486 yards on the ground to go along with eight total touchdowns (seven rushing).
Opponents should expect to get a heavy dose of both — as well as the team's other weapons — over the next phase of the season.
“We've set goals as a team, and we've reached our first goal — to go undefeated through (non-district),” Essary said. “Now we're going to focus on our second goal, which is to make the playoffs. We want to win a district championship, and we want to be playing at Thanksgiving.”
Even on an off week, there's work to do.
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